McPhee v. Robert Gittleman Law Firm, PC – 16.87

McPhee v. Robert Gittleman Law Firm, PC

Digest no. 16.87

Sections 38(1)34(2) and 29(1)(a)

Cite as: McPhee v Robert Gittleman Law Firm, PC, Unpublished Opinion of the Court of Appeals of Michigan, Issued September 14, 2014 (Docket No. 314452).

Appeal Pending: No
Claimant: John S. McPhee (Appellant)
Employer: Robert Gittleman Law Firm, PC (Appellee, along with Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs Growth/Unemployment Insurance Agency)
Tribunal: Court of Appeals of Michigan
Date of decision: Sept. 14, 2014

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Holding: Because the circuit court failed to apply the proper standard of review to the MCAC’s findings, the Court of Appeals found that claimant was entitled to unemployment compensation.

Facts: In 2008, claimant worked in Robert Gittleman’s law firm. In 2010, claimant announced his candidacy for district judge. Claimant informed Gittleman of his intentions and, indicated that he would be leaving the firm if he won the election. Claimant eventually lost the election, but, in the interim, Gittleman had placed an advertisement and hired a new associate, ultimately leaving claimant without employment. The underlying dispute arising from these facts is whether claimant voluntarily left his employment at the law firm or whether he was fired.

On November 2010, the agency approved benefits. The employer protested, and the ALJ determined that claimant was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he had left without good cause attributable to his employer. The MCAC reversed the ALJ, explaining that, “If the Claimant had told the Employer he would be leaving regardless of the outcome of the election…we would agree [that claimant had resigned]. However, the Claimant merely informed the Employer of his candidacy and advised that it make contingency plans in the event he won.”

The circuit court reversed because it determined that the MCAC “improperly substituted its judgment for that of [the] ALJ and in doing so committed an abuse of discretion.” On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed.

Decision: The Agency issued a determination that claimant was eligible for unemployment. The ALJ reversed. The MCAC reversed. The circuit court reversed. The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court.

Rationale: The statutory language [MCL 421.34(2) plainly permits the MCAC, “on the basis of evidence previously submitted,” to reverse the ALJ in regard to both the ALJ’s ultimate decision and its “findings of fact.” In contrast, MCL 421.38(1) requires that the [circuit] court may reverse an order or decision only if it finds that the order or decision is contrary to law or is not supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record.  By focusing instead on whether the MCAC abused its discretion by departing from the ALJ’s factual findings, the circuit court applied an improper standard of review

Digest author: James C. Robinson
Digest updated: 3/15